Why the Cross?

Posted: January 31, 2010 in 1 Peter

1 Peter 3:18-22, “Why the Cross?”

“Why, God?” Almost every human being (whether a believer in Jesus Christ or not) has asked this at some point. We look around in our world, and naturally wonder why so much evil exists – why people hurt so bad – why certain things just seem to happen. The apostle Peter has not been blind to suffering…it’s been the major theme of his letter so far. The church (or churches) he was writing to had already engaged in much suffering & persecution & more was on the way. Throughout it all, Peter exhorted the church to trust in God & maintain hope in whatever circumstance in which they found themselves.

How can a Christian have hope in the midst of suffering? Because whether or not we’ll ever see it, there is a purpose to it, and this is perfectly demonstrated through our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps the biggest “why” question is: “Why the cross?” Why would God send His beloved only begotten Son to die an accursed death on a cross for people who most certainly did not deserve it? Why would Jesus suffer at all? [] The cross was not pointless. The cross was not sadistic in the sense that it served no purpose. The cross of Jesus Christ serves a specific purpose in our salvation, in that through the cross we have access to God & see the glory of Christ. What did Jesus’ suffering accomplish? A lot!

Back up for context… [READ Ch 3:15-17] The bottom line for Peter here is that sometimes it IS the will of God that people suffer in the process of doing good. We see it in Joshua – we see it in Paul – and we certainly see it in the Lord Jesus. What exactly was the will of God in Christ’s suffering? That’s what Peter is going to lay out for us today.

1 Peter 3:18-4:6 (NKJV)
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

A. Marvelous summary of the gospel – virtually every aspect covered here!

B. Who did it? Jesus did! Christ Jesus was the one who suffered for us. We suffer here in this life, but our suffering comes for two reasons: (1) we live in a fallen world, (2) we serve a risen Savior. Our suffering serves as a platform to continue to mold our character into the image of Christ. What our suffering does NOT do is expiate sin. People may now suffer on account of their own sin, but their suffering never satisfies the judgment required for sin. The only One whose suffering is sufficient for that purpose is Christ Jesus. Elsewhere the Bible calls this “propitiation,” in that Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies the righteous wrath of God.
__a. If you’ve ever wondered why Christianity is so exclusive (“you gotta come through Jesus – only one way”), this is part of the reason why. Jesus can (and has) sufficiently suffer for the sins of the world; humans never can. Hell lasts for eternity partly because it’s never enough.

C. How often did Jesus suffer? Once. Once was enough. His sacrifice at the cross never need be made again. He is not re-crucified over & over again every time we take communion or every time we have an Easter service. He is not like the Hebrew sacrifices that needed to be brought unto God day in & day out. Jesus’ one sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to satisfy the debt of all humanity for all sin for all time.

D. Who did He suffer for? Us – “the just for the unjust.” Break it down:
__a. Jesus alone is truly “just.” He alone is righteous is every way. He lived a perfect life – tempted in every way we are, except without sin (Heb 4:15). He has a perfect character – He is the lamb of God without spot or blemish (1 Pet 1:19). Jesus Christ is truly righteous in every way.
__b. Without Jesus, we are wholly “unjust.” This is the idea many people have a problem grasping. People tend to understand Jesus is perfect & just, but they don’t understand that we (without Christ) are truly unjust. They tend to think, “Sure I’ve sinned – but I’m not all that bad.” In comparison with other people, perhaps that’s true; in comparison with God, we find there IS no comparison. ANY bad is “that bad.” When the standard is perfection, then there are no “grey areas” when it comes to sin – either we’ve sinned, or we haven’t. The Bible makes it clear that all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), thus all people are unjust & in need of a just Savior.
__c. The fact that Jesus needed to suffer for us speaks of His work of propitiation (He satisfied the wrath of God). The fact that He DID suffer for us speaks of His work of substitution (He did it in our place). Why do all these intricate theological concepts matter? Simple: we REALLY needed a Savior. Jesus is the only one who qualifies to BE our Savior. Jesus’ work is absolutely sufficient FOR our salvation. … Praise God for Jesus!!

E. What did Jesus accomplish in His suffering (for our salvation)? He now makes it possible that we can be brought to God. The Greek specifically talks of access – it was used to refer to someone who had the role of bringing subjects unto their king. That’s what the Lord Jesus does for us! … In our sin, we were excluded from relationship with God, but in Christ we’ve been given glorious access to the King of all the Universe! What does it include? Much:
__a. In Christ, we have peace with God. We who were at enmity with God & in rebellion against Him have been given peace by the Prince of Peace.
__b. In Christ, we have covenant with God. We who had nothing now have glorious promises in God, we are now His special people.
__c. In Christ, we have relationship with God. Not only are we God’s general people, we are His specific children – we’ve been given the spirit of adoption.
__d. In Christ, we have a future with God. Our promises in Christ are not just for the here & now; they are forever & ever! We will always be with the Lord.
__e. Praise God for Jesus’ sufferings! It’s because the Lord Jesus suffered for YOU that you are in Christ!

F. What was involved with Jesus’ suffering? He really did die – “being put to death in the flesh.” Peter should know; he was an eyewitness to the fact. … This may seem obvious, but there are many who would attempt to claim that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Some try to claim that it wasn’t really Jesus hanging there – others try to claim that Jesus merely “swooned” in the crucifixion. Both thoughts are absolutely false, and easily proven by the evidence of the time.
__a. Was it really Jesus on the cross? Of course. The Jewish leaders weren’t concerned about anyone else. They had a chance to substitute Jesus with Barabbas & they specifically chose Jesus. He went through multiple kangaroo court trials (with the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate), and He was specifically sentenced to death by the Romans with all of Jerusalem watching. To propose that there was a secret substitute for Jesus isn’t just a stretch of logic; it’s an act of lunacy.
__b. Did Jesus really die on the cross? Absolutely. Beyond the horrific physical tortures Jesus (and anyone else) would have endured leading up to the cross & hanging there for any amount of time (which was designed to be purposefully agonizing & terminal), we actually have the equivalent of a modern death certificate when the Roman soldier stuck his spear into Jesus’ side. The “water & blood” that came out specifically shows the separation of fluid that takes place with massive heart failure. The Romans certified His death & sealed the tomb not to keep Jesus in, but to keep the disciples’ out.

G. But Jesus didn’t stay dead – He was “made alive by the Spirit.” Amen! He is resurrected – risen from the grave. Death had no permanent hold upon our Lord Jesus – He’s alive today! His flesh truly did die, but His spirit is alive – and His flesh rose in the same manner on the 3rd day.
__a. BTW – the entire Trinity is somehow mysteriously involved in the resurrection. This may or may not be evident from this verse, depending on your translation. Nevertheless, the Scripture shows it’s true. Jesus was resurrected from the grave by the power of God the Father (Rom 6:4), of God the Son (John 2:18-22), and God the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11, 1 Pet 3:18). The entire unified Godhead was essential to the resurrection of Christ – which means the entire unified Godhead is intimately involved in our salvation.
__b. If you’ve ever wondered if God cares about you, hopefully this goes a ways to answering that question. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit…GOD cares about you so much that He (His entire Being) raised Jesus from the dead specifically to demonstrate the forgiveness of sin. Yes – God loves you & cares for you!

19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,

A. What exactly is Peter referring to here? That’s the subject of much debate! (1) Some think that Jesus proclaimed His victory to fallen angels (who were very active in the days of Noah), thus sealing their doom [possible; could be a tie-in with 2 Pet 2:4]. (2) Others believe that Jesus offered a 2nd chance to those who died during the days of Noah [highly doubtful; no 2nd chances after death in Scripture]. (3) Some think that Jesus preached the gospel through Noah (as a prophet) to those humans who were to be judged in the flood [tough to reconcile this with the idea of “prison”]. (4) Still others believe this might be a reference to Jesus preaching to OT saints in Abraham’s bosom (Hades or Sheol) who died prior to the crucifixion. Perhaps a reference to the Psalmist’s prophecy of leading captivity captive (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8)?
__a. Whatever position you take here, hold it loosely. There are a ton of viewpoints held by many godly scholars. This may be something we’ll just wait to ask Peter about when we see him. 

B. What this is most definitely NOT referring to here: purgatory. There’s not even any hint of purgatory throughout the Scripture. Even this instance doesn’t support the doctrine as people would still supposedly be going to purgatory & Jesus doesn’t have the chance to preach to them. … On the contrary, the NT plainly teaches that when born-again believers are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). There’s no more sin left over that we are required to “pay off” ourselves; Jesus did it all when He suffered once for sins. The process of sanctification takes place in this life; not the next.

20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

A. Our God is patient! God showed His patience to those in prison just like God showed His patience for decades on the earth while Noah was building the ark. Whether a reference to demons who were waiting to be imprisoned, or people who lived in rebellion, God held off on His righteous judgment out of His “Divine longsuffering.” [] Want a reason to show mercy towards others? To show patience during times of suffering? We have a perfect example in our God. If our Master demonstrates longsuffering, we ought to expect His people to do the same. (At the same time, we can be assured that God’s justice WILL be shown. Eventually the rain fell…)
__a. That’s an amazing thought, when we consider it. God gave the command to build the ark one day & it took years for the ark to be completed. The whole time, people would have seen Noah, talked to him, known why the ark was being built, etc. And the whole time they would still be living in absolute rebellion against God, and refusing to repent.
__b. Not unlike today. We are in the days of Noah again… And still today, people see the work of Jesus Christ, hear testimonies of changed lives from Christians all over the world, and yet people still live in absolute rebellion against God, refusing to repent.
__c. If that’s you, stop it! Stop shutting out the call of the Lord – stop choosing to willfully ignore God’s mercy in order to rebel against Him. If He’s calling you today, then today is the day of salvation!

B. Regarding Noah – we sometimes relegate this to just a children’s story. I love the fact that Noah is in all the Bible storybooks & that we have murals on our walls, etc. Praise God for the various displays. That said, the story of Noah is FAR more than a children’s story with lots of animals. With the exception of only 8 people, the entire population of the earth was completely destroyed – engulfed in the righteous wrath of God. We normally (and rightly) think of the Great Tribulation as a time of trouble (and Jesus said there would be no time like it – Matt 24:21), but it certainly isn’t the ONLY time the earth has seen the wrath of God. The Flood is the closest 2nd.
__a. As sobering as this is, we need to keep things in perspective. Yes, the wrath of God was absolutely immense…but 8 people were completely saved through it – placed into the ark & sealed there by none other than God Himself. Knowing the extent of God’s judgment serves as a platform to highlight the extent of God’s salvation. [] Think of it this way: if we think of salvation as just having our “best life now” & the ability to sit on a cloud in heaven when we die – that’s not much. Whoopee. But when we realize that we were headed for everlasting & eternal torment & pain, justly sent there by the judgment of Almighty God because of our sin – when we understand that we would absolutely ¬deserve the worst that Hell could offer for as long as it could possibly be offered…then that makes our salvation so much more amazing. Those who trust in Christ have been taken from THAT, to forgiveness, life, eternity, covenant, and inheritance with Christ. We’ve gone from facing a deserved judgment we would not dare to imagine, to receiving a gift of grace we could not possibly dream up on our own. What truly amazing grace we’ve been given through Christ!

21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

A. Noah provides a great picture of our life with Christ Jesus – symbolized through baptism. Just as Noah experienced the pouring down of water in the process of being saved from judgment, so we are put through the water of baptism when we proclaim Jesus to be our Lord & Savior.

B. Note it’s not the physical act that does anything. Peter specifically says it’s “not the removal of the filthy of the flesh” – getting dunked in water is not taking a bath & coming out sin-free. Physical baptism is a sign of what has already spiritually taken place the moment you placed your faith & trust in Jesus Christ as Lord.

C. FYI – we also see what baptism symbolizes here: death & resurrection, as we are publicly identified with Christ. Going into the water is like going into the grave; rising again is like rising with Jesus the moment He was resurrected.

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

A. Jesus’ acts did not stop with the resurrection; it went on to His ascension. Peter makes this clear here “who has gone into heaven.” Remember Peter was an eyewitness to this – he was one of the disciples looking up into the sky that the angels had to tell to stop staring & get to work.  (Acts 1:11) Sometimes we tend to forget about the ascension…but it’s important! Why? The Lord Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead (as awesome as that is); the Lord Jesus will never die again. That’s a crucial difference between Jesus & Lazarus or anyone else who was ever revived from the dead in the past. They all had to go through death all over again; not Jesus. The Lord Jesus rose to life, He’s still alive today, and He will always be alive for all eternity! We look forward to our risen eternal life because He is still enjoying His risen life.

B. When Jesus ascended, He was also exalted. As the author of Hebrews showed, Jesus in His incarnation was made a “little lower than the angels,” but in His ascension & exaltation has now “obtained a more excellent name than they” (Heb 1:4). Jesus has been given all authority in heaven & on earth (Matt 28:18). Philippians 2:9-11 (9) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. []

C. Our Savior is victorious in every way!

Did Jesus’ suffering have a purpose? You bet! Because Jesus suffered:

A. We are saved: We who were unjust now have access to a just God…
B. God is glorified: The judgment of God is fully displayed, while the grace of God is shown to be fully sufficient.
C. Jesus is exalted: The victory of Christ has been mysteriously proclaimed to all corners of the universe…from the spiritual depths to the heavenly heights.

Jesus’ suffering was not in vain! There was a purpose to it that gives glory to God, and made your salvation possible. That tells us a few things:

A. If our Lord & Master suffered, we ought not be surprised when we suffer as well.
B. If there is a purpose to Jesus’ sufferings, then there is a purpose to ours. We may not fully understand everything about it now, but we can be assured that God is using every circumstance in our life to more fully shape us into the man/woman of God He intends for us to be. We can be assured that in eternity to come, we will see how everything we endured here in this life will serve to bring glory to God in the next.
C. Beyond our own suffering, we can have every assurance in the promises of the gospel because they were made certain in the suffering & victory of the Lord Jesus Christ! For every doubt the devil throws at you regarding your salvation, you can go back to the sufficiency of the cross, the reality of the resurrection, and the victory of the ascension. Everything we have in God is wrapped up in Jesus, and He is enough!

Some of you here today don’t have assurances of those promises because you’ve never first received those promises. Hear me very clearly: salvation is not something you receive by sitting in a church service; salvation is something you experience when you receive Jesus as Lord. Too many people think they’re a Christian because they know they’re not a member of another religion. They know they’re not a Jew or Muslim or Buddhist, so that means they must be Christian – right? Wrong. What Peter has been writing about in this section of Scripture is a Person: the very Person he recognized to be the Son of the Living God & the Person he walked with for three years, saw dead, buried, risen to new life, and ascended to heaven. People are Christians not due to their church membership; they are Christians due to their relationship with the living Christ Jesus.

So the question for you today is: do you know Jesus – or better yet, does He know you as one of His own? Humble yourself before the Lord Jesus today & surrender your life to Him – receive Him as Lord & experience His free gift of salvation.


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